Cemetery reveals 3,000-year-old royal tomb?

(China Daily)

Updated: 2004-05-18 23:18

Chinese archaeologists accidentally discovered a cemetery that may include the oldest tomb ever discovered of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1066 BC to 771 BC).

This week's find in Qishan County, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province may shed light on the mystifying history of the dynasty.

The four centuries of its rule mark the basis for ancient China's political and cultural systems.

The systems that originated then prevailed until the 19th century, said Li Xueqin, a historian with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

To date, historians have mainly depended on documents rather than relics as no other large-sized tombs from the period are known except for a few that were raided and empty.

The discovered cemetery covers an area of more than 115 acres and includes about 10 tombs built into the side of the Fenghuang Mountain in Qishan County, near the city of Baoji in the province.

The tombs are aligned in the shape of a pyramid, with the biggest one at the top. The number of tombs increases on the lower levels, said sources with the Shaanxi provincial Archaeological Research Institute.

Archaeologists from Peking University, Shaanxi provincial and Baoji municipal archaeological institutes are surveying the site.

They have allegedly discovered that the tomb at the top has four paths leading underground that lead into the tomb-room, said Zhu Fenghan, historian and director of the National Museum of China.

"A tomb with four paths was of an extremely high rank. The tomb of a Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century BC) king, unearthed in Central China's Henan Province, also had four paths. Other tombs found of the period had two paths or less," he added.

Li said the biggest tomb "very possibly belonged to a Zhou Dynasty king."

"If such a tomb still remains, it most possibly lies at the site," said Li, who is leading a state-level research project on Chinese history before the Christian era.

He said Qishan County, where the cemetery was found, was the capital of the Western Zhou Dynasty while Fenghuang Mountain was considered by the royal family to be the spot where its rise to power began.

The Xi'an-based Shaanxi Daily reported finds of pieces of oracle bones and tortoise shells at the cemetery.

The bones and shells were reportedly inscribed with writings bearing such meanings as "Wenwang"(King Wenwang) or "Zhougong Zhen (Lord of the Zhou had his fortune told).

Remains of a city wall, more than 700 metres long, was also discovered near the cemetery, said the newspaper.

Archaeologists are waiting for the State Administration of Cultural Heritage to decide whether excavation will be carried out or not.

"If there has been no damage done to the cemetery we might preserve it as it has been,'' said Zhu, who is to visit the site next week.

But Li said excavations will inevitably follow as it may be too difficult to protect relics covering such a large area from future damage.